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In September 1973, Chile’s military staged a coup d’état leading to the removal of Salvador Allende, the country’s first socialist to be democratically elected as president. The military regime’s subsequent campaign of repression forced some 200,000 Chileans to seek safe haven elsewhere. Heightened public awareness and lobbying pressured the Canadian federal government to loosen existing exclusionary immigration criteria. This permitted nearly 7,000 refugees from Chile to enter Canada.

Halifax harbour is large, deep, and ice-free. It is a natural transportation hub, with river access to inland Nova Scotia, and proximity to efficient shipping routes from Europe to North America. However, before 1876, there was no inland rail link, and so the port was not particularly useful for passenger or cargo service to the rest of Canada.[1] Other ports, notably along the St. Lawrence and in the Great Lakes, had immigration facilities dating back to the 1820s, and were critical to ocean transportation to Canada before the Halifax rail line was complete.[2]

However, in the fifty-year gap between the completion of the railway and the opening of Pier 21 in 1928, many people who arrived by sea in Halifax –with some exceptions—arrived by way of Pier 2 in Halifax’s North End. Over time, there were several quite different arrangements for immigrant reception at Pier 2, from simple adaptations at a cargo pier to spacious and purpose-built quarters.

In 1973, the Canadian government established its first formal administrative structure to process refugee claimants at Canada’s borders and in-land claims for refugee status. By the 1980s, the rising number of refugee claims ignited a national conversation about how Canada processed refugee claimants and whether the country’s refugee determination system was fair, balanced, and efficient. In 1989, the Canadian government established the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada to modernize the refugee determination process.